NHL 20

NHL 20 pro NoSleeves on the future of NHL esports

NHL 20 Pro NoSleeves – aka Cameron Halbert – has been busy lately, making a name for himself in the game’s esports arena. NHL 20, NBA 2K, FIFA 20 and Madden 20 have all received a ton of attention with traditional sports on hiatus, and their esports scenes are seeing explosive growth as a result.

Halbert was invited to play in the Northern Arena NHL 20 Cup under the San Jose Sharks banner. Unfortunately due to internet issues, he had to bow out, but luckily joined the Northern Arena desk as a commentator. I sat down with Halbert to discuss his competitive NHL career, the scene’s growth, and its future.

SQUAD: How did you first get involved with NHL esports?

Halbert: When I created my channel back in 2017, it was based around tips and strategy videos trying to help below-average players improve their game.

The NHL created the [Gaming World Championship] in 2018, and after watching that I knew I wanted to be involved in competitive gaming for NHL. In 2019 there was a much bigger focus from not only the NHL itself, but the teams around the league hosting multiple events. I just wanted to help improve those events and grow the esports scene as best I could.

In September I became a full-time content creator focusing on the NHL video game. I create videos for YouTube, stream over 40 hours a week, and I am involved in multiple NHL organization events including the Toronto Maple Leafs, Washington Capitals, as well as the Tampa Bay Lightning, which became my first ever broadcast opportunity for an event where I did the play by play for the Finals in Orlando.

Now I run a few high level weekly esports competitions with Gamersaloon.com, focusing on having the best North American players face off in both versus and Hockey Ultimate Team, while doing commentary for different leagues and tournaments.

Wow, so you’ve been around through a lot of growth for the NHL gaming scene. How has the scene changed with this new boon of support from franchises?

The GWC really gave NHL esports its initial push. It came out of nowhere and it had been almost 10 years since a tournament was held for a substantial amount of money. Since the GWC in 2018, there have been well over 20 events run by the NHL franchises. These range from fully online, to online qualifiers that had players flown out to the team facilities for a grand finals all the way to region based leagues that ran over the course of months.

Now the GWC has become this staple event that is sort of the season finale. It has changed quite a bit since its first season in 2018, moving from versus teams to Hockey Ultimate Team, to this year moving to a new format for qualifiers [which offers] a better competition. That’s not to mention what is going on in the 6v6 landscape. League Gaming and NHL GAMER in Europe are now running extremely competitive events with good chunks of money on the line. [The highlight of] the 6v6 events was the Washington Capitals deciding to run a full 6v6 season, that had its finals in Washington for a $15,000 prize pool.

There is a ton of grass roots community leagues and then more “official support” from within the league. Is this diverse selection of tournaments better for players, or would a more structured “major league” be better for the scene overall?

Coming into this year, the need for a structured league has never been higher. 2019 was great to see all the teams get involved, but without a league or any structure from the NHL, the teams are left to plan these events on their own, and you see more and more conflicting issues.

Take the Montreal and Minnesota event. They both ran an online qualifier with a live LAN. The only issue is that they ran it without any structure from the league and the LANs happened on the same weekend. To add to the issue, 3 of the 4 Wild qualifiers also [conflicted with the Montreal event]. You had guys fly in Friday, play in the Montreal event, then take a flight the next morning to go to Minnesota. Tampa Bay Lightning made their online qualifiers on the Saturday, so you had 3 major team events all happen on one weekend.

If you spread that out, you have a full month of NHL esports and much more hype to these events. Speaking with executives from these teams, they echo the same thing. If there was a structure in place it would allow them to run events that didn’t overlap, and possibly have their champions play each other in team-versus-team events.

With sports leagues on hiatus, now seems like the perfect time for the NHL to go all in on promoting competitive NHL gaming. How do you think the league can take advantage to draw new viewers in who normally might not have NHL esports on their radar?

In terms of taking advantage of the current global situation, you are seeing a lot of teams run sims of the games they were supposed to be playing on game nights. I think the best way to get (fans) into competitive NHL would be to have a 6v6 team represent the NHL teams, and have them wear jerseys (with) names on the back that rep players. It would give the best mix of the actual team and competitive play.

[This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.]

SQUAD would like to thank Cameron “NoSleeves” Halbert for taking the time to chat with us! You can catch Halbert and the rest of the team commentating on the NHL 20 Cup Northern Arena Twitch stream or the official Xbox Mixer stream.

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Matthew Murray

Matthew Murray is a Canadian writer, journalist and public relations specialist. PC gamer, fan of FPS and RPGs. Follower of several esports titles including Rainbow 6, Overwatch and CS:GO. Every software or game he touches will magically have inexplicable issues somehow.
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